LOUISVILLE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL IS BACK IN THE FINAL FOUR! Louisville was in a tight battle all game against Michigan before pulling away in the final five minutes to win 62-50. For the fourth time in school history, the Cards are headed to the Final Four. a game ending 10-0 run sealed the deal for the Cards
Hailey Van Lith dropped 22 points and Emily Engstler hauled in 16 points to lead the way. The Cards limited their turnovers to 12 while forcing Michigan to 22 turnovers.
Chelsie Hall tied her season high with 15 points, most of them in the first half. Kianna Smith added 11. Besides a strong rebounding performance, Engstler has a game-high six steals.
1Q: Louisville 17, Michigan 13
Three-point shooting was lights out for the Cards but a trio of offensive fouls held Louisville back from pulling ahead. Chelsie Hall came to play, showing her long range shooting to help spark the offense. The Wolverines used a 7-0 run to take a 13-12 lead before the Cards scored the final five points of the quarter.
2Q: Louisville 30, Michigan 27
Louisville's notorious drought came early. The Cards missed several scoring opportunities involving multiple missed layups and Hillmon was able to get involved for a Michigan including a big block moments before the end of the quarter. A rare made layup right before the buzzer allowed the Cards to go into halftime with a three-point lead.
After having a chance to take a double-digit lead, the Cards went cold from the floor and were whistled on what seemed to be every possession on defense as Michigan knocked down free throw after free throw to bring the score within two to close out the quarter.
4Q: Louisville - Michigan
Welcome back to the game, Olivia Cochran! After battling foul trouble all game, the forward came in clutch on both ends of the court by shutting down Hillmon and scoring a good portion of Louisville's points down the stretch. Emily Engstler, although struggling to make a shot, found ways to be disruptive on the defensive end and made sure to prevent Michigan from hauling in offensive boards. The Cards closed the game on a 10-0 run.
Following the final buzzer the team showed tons of emotions while celebrating. Close-ups of Jeff Walz, Hailey Van Lith, and Olivia Cochran all showed tears in their eyes. I think we all had tears in our eyes at home too, though.
My favorite quote from the immediate on-court postgame came from Van Lith when asked about what Kobe Bryant would say to her if he was still with us. Van Lith's response triggered a couple bleeps on national tv when she said "Go f-ing when this sh*t, Hailey. We not done." I think we can all agree that Van Lith was the MVP of the Wichita Region after scoring 20+ points in all four NCAA Tournament games so far, the first Louisville player to accomplish this feat. She has certainly stepped up as a leader and go-to player.
With the Cards' trip to the Final Four, we are back to the super cool statement that "Every player to play a full four years under Walz at Louisville has been to a Final Four." That statement is incredibly awesome and is also a great recruiting tool for future recruits.
Free Throws- Louisville shot 7-9 from the charity stripe including a couple important ones down the stretch. Despite the Cards only getting seven trips to the line as opposed to Michigan getting 20 (seriously, prison stripes?) the 77.8% shooting earns a capital "F".
Rebounding- Okay, Emily Engstler deserves a capital R+ with a cherry on top for her effort. The next closest player on the floor behind Engstler was still five boards behind her. However, Louisville lost the overall rebounding battle 36-30. Because of the effort of Engstler, the Cards still salvage a lowercase "r" in my book.
Effort/Execution- 24. That's the key number here. Louisville scored 24 points off turnovers, with many of those coming in transition. Remarkable! Louisville also posted 32 points in the paint while going against one of the best post players in the country. When things got tight down the stretch, Louisville went on a 10-0 run to close the game and seal the win. Capital "E".
Defense- Michigan was held scoreless for the final 5:42 of the game. Without the defense stepping up down the stretch, the Cards don't win this game. Louisville's full court press helped force Michigan into 22 turnovers and a pair of shot clock violations. The Wolverines shot 34.8% from the floor. If you take away Hillmon's 10 made free throws, no Michigan player scored in double figures. To top it off, Louisville held Michigan to seven fourth quarter points. Capital "D".
F-r-E-D is a good way to win your Elite Eight game and by the Wichita Regional champion.
The Final Four is Set
Now we have our Final Four. South Carolina and Stanford were the first teams to punch their tickets with wins over Creighton and Texas, respectively, on Sunday. The final two teams- UConn and Louisville- punched their tickets last night. The Huskies took down NC State in a wild double overtime thriller while the Cards downed Michigan.
1-South Carolina vs 1-Louisville will tip off at 7:00 p.m. ET, and 1-Stanford vs 2-UConn will tip off around 9:30. These two games gives us two great match-ups to tune into. Stanford is looking to go back-to-back. South Carolina is hoping to win their first championship since 2017. UConn looks to win their first title since 2016, when the Huskies had wrapped up a four-peat. Louisville has its eyes on the program's first ever championship.
With the Final Four set, the NCAA Cardinal Couple Pick Em continues to be a tight race. Here is the latest standings:
45 wins: Kenny Schneider, Kenneth Stark Sr, Jared, Perry Sosh, Bea
44 wins: Nick O, Jeff
43 wins: Joe Hill, Doug Anderson, Jason Wyrick
42 wins: Blue Lou, Katy
41 wins: Benny J, Case
40 wins: David Watson, Daryl
39 wins: Vivian McAdams
38 wins: Louavulfan35
37 wins: Curtis Franklin, Arthur
36 wins: Paul
33 wins: Sonya
21 wins: CC Chimps
Since it's after midnight and I have to be up in about six hours for work, I'm hoping Paul can double check my work on this to make sure his numbers match mine.
For now, let's enjoy our Tuesday with a little celebration and prepare for Friday.
Happy Tuesday and Go Cards!